It’s been twenty years since the United States was on the podium at the FEI World Championships, but the foursome here in Pratoni has been hell-bent on making it happen again, and now as the sun sets on cross country day, the American flag stands in silver medal position.
Pathfinder Will Coleman set the tone — delivering a classy round with Off The Record just two seconds above optimum time.
“I thought he answered all the questions very confidently. You know, he’s kind of a bulldog out there. He takes a bit and he really wants to go but I was really pleased with just how, sort of almost arrogant he was out there. He was really strong and it was almost like he was telling me to ‘let me at a dad,'” Will said.
He’ll be 11th overnight with the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse Off The Record (Arkansas – Drumagoland Bay, by Ard Ohio) on a score of (27.2).
“He’s not the fastest horse, to be frank. He’s a very efficient horse. And he’s quick, but he doesn’t necessarily have a tremendous gallop. He loses a bit of step as he tires. And, you know, I think he was really fit and I’m super happy with how he ran and I couldn’t fault him for anything. He did his absolute best,” Will said.
Backed by course intel from Will, Lauren Nicholson was next out, with her eye on her watch. “I knew all the questions were there for him and it was more for me trying to hammer at the time from the get go because he doesn’t have a huge gallop. And just try not to — the more of the course for me was more about chasing the time than the actual fences,” she said.
Her five-star veteran Vermiculus delivered what was most important: a round with zero jump penalties. The two added 5.6 time penalties in the end, which removed their result from the team tally, but that just proves the depth the United States has brought forward — that a 32.7 after cross country is the drop score.
“It’s always a different kind of pressure riding for the team and you still want to be toeing the line of being gutsy, but try not to do anything stupid that’s going to affect the team. So I’m just very glad to have it done. And Coleman has it done and that takes a lot of pressure off,” she said.
Tamie Smith, who was third in the rider rotation, became the first U.S. competitor to catch the clock, finishing not only double clear, but in individual bronze medal position with Mai Baum. Tilly Berendt’s full report will share much more detail on the shining star for the Americans, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with this: “I have an unbelievable magical unicorn and all three phases. He’s a horse of a lifetime and he’s made a lot of dreams come true. I will take care of him tonight. He felt great to the end, and I know his heart is as big as mine. So I know he’ll give me everything he has.”
A team score without jumping penalties was cemented by this point, but team stalwart Boyd Martin knows nothing at a championship is guaranteed, so he went around clear and bang on the optimum time with Tsetserleg TSF.
“I’ve been on these championship teams so many times and luck comes into it a bit,” Boyd said. “I’m just proud to be American. We hung in there and, you know, ups and downs, highs and lows, and we’re far from finished yet. We’ve got a massive day tomorrow and it’s good to have five clears. It’s just a sigh of relief and I think in the past it’s been a bit of everything but today just seem to come together.”
This may have been Ariel Grald’s first Championship, but you’d never have known it from watching her today with Annie Eldridge’s Leamore Master Plan. “I mean, this is this horse’s best phase,” she said, and it’s arguably hers too, and if you’d been following the pair, today’s result wouldn’t come as a surprise.
“This is my first horse at Advanced and four- and five-star. He’s gone overseas multiple times, and to be able to just keep producing. Honestly, being here isn’t any more pressure than I’ve ever put on myself before. Obviously there’s an extra support of the U.S. team and all that, but I always come to be competitive. But I do think being here in the World Championships was a bit of an incentive for me to take a risk. Because I’m gaining mileage too, I go to these big events and I’m like, ‘jump clear first, then try to be as fast as you can’, so I end up being conservative and then kind of hammering him home at the end. Today I was like, ‘what are we here for?’ My dressage wasn’t the strongest, but I’m gonna finish on it,” she said.
She didn’t simply come inside the time — she was the fastest rider of the day coming home with ten seconds to spare.
Though Canada saw mixed results, their team result was improved to 12th place. Stalwart Hawley Awad is the highest ranking with the 18-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare Jollybo (Jumbo x Polly Coldunnell, by Danzig Connection). She added 20.4 time penalties for 47th place individually.
“I was proud to go out first. For them to have that much belief in me to go around is kind of special. You know, to be on Jolly — she’s absolutely amazing,” Hawley said. “I lost my rein coming down the Slide. I literally came down the Slide with one rein. Any other horses would have run out and looked for an out; she went straight. And, you know, that’s why we give her carrots, right? You know, it’s just that bond and relationship I have with her.”
A pin came down for Holly Jacks and Candy King at the entry to the coffin, and they picked up 32 time penalties for a two-day score of 75.4 for 59th place.
“Honestly like it’s probably one of the best rides I’ve had on him. I think it was set up for success where I had the uphill to kind of blow some steam off and I was able to let go and it’s been awesome,” she described. “I have to say, Matt Ryan’s been our new technical advisor and he was on the phone to my coach, Buck, a lot and it was just like having Buck here. So I think I’m really appreciative of having a new technical advisor come in who has spent the time learning how I need to learn.”
Mike Winter added penalties for deploying a frangible device and having a runout with El Mundo. The pin went on the triple bar at six and a surprising runout at 26b, a skinny brush, moved them to 65th place. Though he’s completed two five-stars, Mike thinks this track may not have suited the 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Numero Uno x Calvaro’s Bria Z, by Calvaro F.C.), but he shares the blame for the late 20 penalties.
“I think he was better than I expected in places and not as easy to ride in other places. He’d be a more a big parkland horse — like a Badminton horse or Burghley horse. I think this maybe didn’t totally suit him,” he said. “He was very, very good. He just at the end there got a bit strong and I probably made a miscalculation — it wouldn’t have taken much longer just to jump the other one. And but, you know, I listen, I’m lucky to ride him.”
Dana Cooke ran into two issues around the track with FE Mississippi. They first glanced off the final element at the bottom of the infamous Pratoni slide, and then had another error at the sharp-angled brush coming out of the first water. She’s 70th on the leaderboard.
“I just got a little bit, that three rides so tight down the hill at the Slide there. And I just got there a little bit too close, unfortunately, and being on a long rein you don’t have as much kind of control where they’re going. We just got there a little bit too tight. And honestly, it’s the same coming out of the water. I just thought I was there, and again on long rein and left the door open and we had the runout. But everywhere else, she was awesome. She was a bit tired at the end, so I played safe at the end and took the long routes. But otherwise, I’m pretty thrilled with her,” she said.
It was a long walk back for Karl Slezak, who retired Fernhill Wishes at the double of corners (fence 11). He rerouted to present to the alternate route, but “Chocy” had decided he’d had enough for the day.
“He just needs to get out, do more big events like this,” Karl said. “He was galloping really well, I think he just got to the top and if anything, he was eating up the distances almost too well. We got to the bottom of the Slide, and I thought he’s gonna leave in two. And at the top of the hill there, I think he got there on the kind of two-and-a-half, and just wasn’t really focused on it. So he just stepped out. And then I just couldn’t get his focus back after turning away from the crowd there.”
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